Thursday, January 24, 2013

Where to now Yair and the Numbers behind the Israeli Vote

Now that the Israeli elections are over the questions are just beginning. Questions such as, What coalitions will form? What if any change going forward will the nation face on such issues as The Occupation, the Economy, or on issues of Social Justice. These are all, of course, large questions and can't be answered now - but as the government forms it is interesting to explore them.

First however, lets take a look at the "numbers behind the numbers". The Times of Israel does a very nice job of breaking this down.

The chart corresponds to these totals:
Likud-Beytenu (31 seats):880,972 ballots, (23.32%)
Yesh Atid (19): 541,033 (14.32%)
Labor Party (15): 430,305 (11.39%)
Jewish Home (12): 344,028 (9.11%)
Shas (11): 330,359 (8.74%)
United Torah Judaism (7): 195,577 (5.18%)
Hatnua (6): 188,425 (4.99%)
Meretz (6): 171,660 (4.54%)
United Arab List (4): 137,983 (3.65%)
Hadash (4): 113,336 (3.00%)
Balad (3): 96,788 (2.56%)
Kadima (2): 79,064 (2.09%)
One interesting fact here... There were approx. 250,000 votes cast that did not count. Why? Because in the Israeli system to get into parliament, a party needs to cross a 2% of the total vote threshold. Those votes went to parties (22 parties) that did not meet that threshold and in Israel, that means the votes get tossed out. So... for the election:
Out of all the 5,656,705 eligible voters, 67.52 percent cast their ballots in just under 10,000 voting stations throughout the country. The turnout was some 4% higher than in the previous elections. 
A total of 3,818,441 votes were cast. Of those, 40,464 were disqualified. The remaining 3,777,977 votes were legal and counted by the election committee.
More than 250,000 votes were cast by people away from their local voting station, the majority of them by soldiers and the rest by Israel’s diplomatic corps, prisoners, hospital patients and sailors of the merchant navy.
The threshold needed to enter the Knesset was set at 2% of the general vote, which, in light of the number of votes cast, translated into slightly over 75,000 votes.
And yes.... apparently in Israel... People in Prison can vote.

So the question that people in Israel (and around the world) are asking.. Where to now, Yair?

In Israel's parliamentary system governments are formed by coalitions. The party with the most votes GENERALLY (but not always) gets the "first crack" at forming the government. In this case Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-Betainu Party won the most votes (and largest bloc of seats) so he gets first try.
To form a government the coalition needs to get to 61 Seats (out of 120 seats).

So far, Netanyahu has reached out to four parties: United Torah Judaism (UTJ), Shas, Yesh Atid, and HaBayit HaYehudi. The two religious parties UTJ, and Shas have both indicated an interest in being part of the government and both have stated a preference for the government to be led by PM Netanyahu. At the same time HaBayit HaYehudi (trans. Jewish Home) has almost been begging for a position in the coalition. Their stated goal is to make sure that the Prime Minister does not veer to the Center or Left when it comes to issues of security.

Now there is a certain degree of "bad blood" between HaBayit HaYehudi (H.H.) and Likud. For one there are sever personality differences between the Sara Netanyahu (the P.M.'s wife and Naftali Bennett - the leader of H.H.). Plus, Bennett is a competitor for the Hard Rights votes with the Right Wing of Likud which is most prominently represented by YESHA Council leader Danny Danon and Moshe Feiglin. All of these folks have as their top priority the creation of an Israel from the Jordan to the Mediterranean. But with these three parties, the government can only cobble together 60 seats total not enough to make legislation.
Into the mix comes the Centrist Yesh Atid party led by Yair Lapid (please use the link to look at their website for their main positions). Lapid has put three major points across for his party to join the government. The first is that the government has to initiate reform in the economic sectors of society and ease the burdens that the Middle Class have been facing. The second is that the government has to spread "the burden" of National Service out more equally and finally that the government has to do what it takes to get back into negotiations with the Palestinians.

AND THUS the chaos begins.... In order to join the government, Yesh Atid will have to compromise on at least ONE of these demands. That or Likud-Betainu has to compromise on some of their principles. As YNET puts it:
Lapid clarified on Wednesday that he would not form an obstructive Center-Left bloc to prevent Netanyahu from assembling the next coalition. However, Lapid is expected to present two basic conditions for joining a Likud-led government: Equal share of the burden legislation and the resumption of peace talks with the Palestinians. 
Apart from these two red lines, Yesh Atid will push for a reduction in housing rates, education reform that will see core subjects studied in all schools and the reduction of the number of government ministers to a maximum of 18.
Members of Yesh Atid's list are divided as to their potential coalition partners. Lapid himself has refused to rule out the haredi factions however members of his party estimated that passing a universal draft bill would be easier without the ultra-Orthodox.
Others are less adamant about the exclusion of the haredim and are more concerned about working alongside Habayit Hayehudi. Leaving out Naftali Bennett's party, they claim, would enable progress in the peace process. They believe Shas can be a partner to negotiations on universal draft.
Now, can the government put together a coalition of just Likud-Betainu, Yesh Atid, UTJ, and Shas? The numbers say yes. They would have 68 seats. BUT, the problem for Likud-Betainu would be that any significant discussion on "sharing the burden" would be hindered by the fact that the religious parties (UTJ, and Shas) may not go for real meaningful reform. THUS, any true attempt at that reform could bring down the government. 
At the same time, IF the parties go back to the negotiating table with the Palestinians (something the Religious Parties don't really care much about), the difference between Yesh Atid - who seems to favor a negotiated Two State Solution and most of Likud-Betainu which supports some sort of One State solution (although curiously the PM supports a very sad (editorialized) version of the Two State solution would seemingly preclude any agreement there. How would the afore mentioned Danon, and Feiglin handle working with their "Two State " companions in Yesh Atid... and vice versa. Of course, then the question would be... how would that work?

Personally, from what I am seeing - The Prime Minister is making all kinds of promises that he simply won't be able to keep. The only way he could do that would be to head to the Center or Left and include Labor but then he would splinter the Right Wing of his party and could lose half his seats (at least).
So here is where I get cynical... I believe (but I could be wrong), that Lapid is going to do exactly what Ehud Barak and Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) did and join with the government to "fix it from the inside". I base this on all the messages of "positive discussions" both Lapid and Netanyahu are putting out.

Of course, like Barak and Mofaz found out, those who wade into coalition, disappear into the pool of bullshit that surrounds the Prime Minister. He simply either can't or won't do anything that he is promising Lapid. Look what has happened every single time. He just cannot or will not deliver and thus the "great hope for moderation" will go down.

HOWEVER, I would be happy to be completely wrong here and hope that Lapid and his cohorts will "stick to their guns" regarding both Social Justice AND the Occupation issues. Like anything... We shall see.


  1. If Shelly Yacimovich could look past her own long term political goals and instead focus on her own party's priorities, then she would see an opportunity to accomplish several key goals:

    1. End the haredi exemptions (equal share of the burden)
    2. A more open line towards the Palestinians should there be any mvoement at moderation from that side (I would also opine that none exists at this moment, keeping in mind that this can always change).
    3. Moderate the economic policies of Likud.

    all of those 3 will be accomplished far more effectively INSIDE the gov't than outside. And the math will allow Bibi to move left and keep Habayit Hayehudi out of the gov't:

    Likud/Beitenu 31
    Yesh Atid 19
    Labor 15
    Kadima 2
    Livni 6

    that's 73 right there. no way Livni stays out if Labor is in, unless Bibi chooses to exclude her

    the other option without Labor is Shas, which I hope would indeed be far more open to equal sharing of national service given that many of its voters are not haredi and have to serve in the IDF. And Shas is also not hard line on territorial issues.

    Either of these options would be far preferable vis-a-vis the positions the gov't will take and its standing with the US and Europe than if Bennett is in the gov't. Thank goodness Jeremy Gimpel didn't make it in to Knesset (bad enough that Feiglin did).

    Labor had an historic opportunity years ago (when Ya'ir Lapid's father Tommy ran Shinui to a similar "kingmaker" finish) and could have formed a broad-based secular coalition with Likud and Shinui that would have kept the haredi parties out of gov't for the first time ever. They blew it then; I hope history won't repeat itself.

    1. BUT Dr. Mike... You are leaving out one very important factor. That is the Rightists in Likud-Betainu. They would bust up the party faster than anything. Now would could they pull 12 of the 31 votes away... I think so.

      Plus, it is not just on Shelly. I can't see Bibi's backers willingly doing what it takes to put the Unions of positions of Power and enact REAL economic reforms.

      Now Shas is an option as well... and that is probably where things will go, however, what will be interesting with them is to see what direction they take in the internal struggle between Deri and Yishai.

      For Labor, I think unless they get written agreements and a written plan of action rather than the vagueries of Bibi's usual bullshit... then yes they should go into coalition. But without this in writing and specific plans. I don't think they should.

    2. (livosh1)
      I agree with you, volley. If Bibi agreed to a coalition like that, with no other rightist or religious parties, at least half of the Likud/Bateinu coalition would bolt. Any proposal like that by Shelly would get no consideration whatsoever.

  2. Kind of ended up in a weird place, didn't it? I honestly don't know what to make of Lapid. The words have a lot of appeal, but he's short on detail and talk is cheap. How he does at the hard work of governing -- which he's going to have to do, as he's surely going to end up in the coalition -- will determine whether his party is more than just a flash in the pan or if it'll collapse in the next election like Kadima did in this one.

    Thing is, no matter what happens, the right-wing majority is weaker now than it was before the election, and the choices Netanyahu is going to have to make in forming his coalition seem to be destined to lead to an internal showdown sooner or later. He's either going to lose control of the party or there's going to be a splinter group breaking away in the next 2-3 years; personally, I'd bet on the latter.

    Given the numbers, I wouldn't be surprised if there's another election in Israel before we vote for Congress again at the end of next year, though I think this Knesset will last a little longer than that.

    1. Agreed with this whole post and in particular with this:

      Given the numbers, I wouldn't be surprised if there's another election in Israel before we vote for Congress again at the end of next year, though I think this Knesset will last a little longer than that.

      I too would not be surprised if we are looking at another election before 2014 is out.